17th February 1826
Slept poorly and woke up surrounded by hats. Papa has, at least, finally persuaded Mama that the card was a cruel prank played upon them both; and, for good measure, has promised to come to church on Sunday.
After school had finished, I decided that it was high time to attend to my own affairs of the heart, viz. speak with Forsythe about MONTAGUE PYM. When I arrived at Buckingham Street, however, no-one answered the door-bell. I went inside, therefore, walked up, and, to my surprise, found the door to his apartments lay wide open. The room had been emptied of furniture and possessions, except for a careworn pair of high-backed chairs and a faded print of Vauxhall Gardens pinned to the wall. Then a familiar voice shouted down from the top landing.
‘What ho! young Tittlebat!’ exclaimed Montague Pym, whose bewhiskered face poked over the banisters like some cheerful moustachioed gargoyle – ‘thought you might be a Philistine.’
‘Philistine?’ I replied.
‘A broker’s man, my green cabbage,’ replied Pym, ‘come to squeeze blood from the stone. But they won’t get any joy hereabouts. Our mutual friend, Mr G. Forsythe, has flown the coop, leaving only two porter’s chairs and his apologies. Rather decent of him, all things considered – the chairs, I mean – even if they aren’t quite up to the fashion. Come up, young fellow! Come up and take tea, what?’
I could hardly object and so followed him upstairs to his attic rooms. A scent of hops and tobacco lurked in the air, along with a strong stinging suggestion of the water of Cologne. I peered through the smutted attic windows and could just make out the chimneys of the manufactories across the water; the coal barges at the river’s edge; and the occasional fiery belch of smoke from a passing steamboat. Pym, meanwhile, seated himself on a sofa, next to an oval tea-tray, holding tea-pot, cups and bread and butter, balanced on a little mahogany table. The tray bore the cautionary inscription ‘Property of Garew’s Chop House, Fetter Lane.’
Pym told me how Forsythe had found himself in debt to his tailor – ‘positively a slave to the wretched fellow’ – and had thus been obliged to ‘make himself scarce’, to the extent of resigning from the Minor Emoluments Office – ‘though I don’t believe the guv’nor has noticed’ – and ‘burying himself in some rat-hole in the country.’ I said that I was sorry to hear it and he advised me that, ‘if you do one thing right in life, my young Tittlebat’ – I wished he would not call me that; but it is, unfortunately, the time-honoured custom of Neptunians to refer to newcomers as minor members of the finny tribe – ‘then find a tailor with good tick and a short memory.’
I could muster little in the way of conversation but I remarked that, by a peculiar coincidence, I was sure I had seen him in a carriage in Camden on Sunday, along with our elderly neighbour, Mrs Hathersage.
‘I say, Tittlebat!’ he exclaimed, ‘You astound me! You live in the same queer out-of-the-way part of town as The Old Flint?’
I could not make out whether it was the mysterious character of Camden or my proximity to the old party in question which he considered the more extraordinary, and so merely nodded.
‘She’s my cousin, Tittlebat,’ he continued, ‘three times removed. On the odd occasion, when I ain’t preoccupied with pressing matters of business, I lend her my private vehicle for church-going. Fine little rig-out, ain’t it? A fellow tries to do the decent thing by his relations. I’m the only family that she possesses, as it goes, apart from Selly – and they do say blood is thicker than water.’
‘Selly? You mean Miss Hathersage?’
(The presumption! That he should have called her Selly!)
‘That’s the one, little Selena. Known her since she was a tadpole –’
‘I confess,’ he continued, ‘I had a youthful fancy for her, before I had moustachios; and I do believe the little minx was tolerable warm for me. But a decent pair of moustachios give a fellow a dose of perspective, don’t you know? Well, perhaps you don’t –’
(Here, I could contain myself no longer.)
‘Sir,’ I exclaimed, ‘as a fellow Neptunian and a gentleman,’ – which was giving him far too much credit – ‘I will thank you not to speak so lightly of Miss Selena Hathersage!’
‘Good lord,’ he replied, ‘what a blow-up! Do I take it, Tittlebat, that you are bent upon defending the young lady’s honour?’
I rashly replied that, now that he mentioned it, I rather supposed I was.
‘Well, come now,’ he replied, jumping up and grabbing a pair of white kid gloves which lay casually discarded on the mantelpiece, ‘take these, my boy, and throw down the gauntlet!’
(I believe I must have looked quite astonished.)
‘I can procure the pistols, if you permit it; and, of course, we must each have a second. Come to think of it, I know a fellow in the Guards who might oblige. Now, where shall it be? Hampstead Heath or Hyde Park – or somewhere more out-of-the-way, for privacy, what? – Blackheath?’
‘Where shall what be?’
‘Why, the duel, my dear fellow. This is an affair of honour!’
He said this so very gravely and earnestly that, for a moment, I was quite at a loss. But then, plainly relishing my horrified confusion, his lips curled into a sly and wicked smile. Then came laughter – and more laughter still – until he slapped his thighs in pantomime fashion and doubled up, leaning on the mantelpiece for support. I blushed bright red, while he replaced the gloves and composed himself.
‘Oh my dear boy,’ he said, ‘your face! Come now! Think, Tittlebat! A fellow of my standing at the bar – admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, don’t you know? – yourself a mere schoolboy – whatever would people make of it? Forgive me! I am teasing you, my dear fellow; please do not take it to heart. Come now, I’ll find you a glass of something stronger and we’ll toast our mutual acquaintance – La Flint!’
A glass of gin soon appeared and Pym raised the toast to his cousin. Reluctantly, I joined him.
‘To Mrs Edwina Hathersage – long may she live – and then – well, may she remember her family!’
I was not bold enough to enquire about the precise nature or scale of his expectations – my mind briefly turned to Skillet’s rumours of buried treasure – but I consoled myself that he did not, at least, seem to have any strong personal claim on Selena’s affections.
‘The thing is, Tittlebat,’ he said, putting a hand on my arm as I made my excuses and rose to depart, ‘feel terrible about my little jest. Do let me do you a small service, eh? – Neptune forever! – all pickled in the same brine, what? Hear me out – are you a church-and-chapel sort? I only bring it up, my boy, since Miss Selena Hathersage is powerful fond of Our Lord and Saviour. Almighty fond, one might say! Useful intelligence, eh?’
I could not make immediate sense of it, but he continued regardless.
‘Don’t go in for it myself, mind you – no more than necessary – but both my cousin and her little niece are out-and-out chapel-goers – peculiar sect – queer little crib in Red Lion Square – not the place for a fellow with moustachios – wouldn’t do at all for me’ – he said this in the most insinuating fashion – ‘but if you’re rather sweet on Selly – well, you might want to put yourself in her good books – oh! I say – that’s deuced clever, what? Good Book –’
I interrupted him to say that I was nothing of the sort when it came to Miss Hathersage and bid him goodbye.
Walked home feeling both somewhat relieved and, at the same time, thoroughly bamboozled. I looked up Red Lion Square in the old street atlas which Papa keeps in the drawing-room; it is not far from Holborn Bars and Lincoln’s Inn Fields.